Monday, April 28, 2014

Doubting Thomas, the Big Bang, and the Greatest Detective Story of All Time

Today’s Gospel is one of the most famous resurrection appearances, the story of doubting Thomas, which is found only in John’s Gospel.  It is a story about the difference between secondhand experience and the firsthand threshold of the Easter miracle.  Though Jesus has appeared to some of his disciples in resurrected form, he has not appeared to Thomas.  Until Thomas meets the Risen Lord personally, he refuses to believe in the resurrection.  Makes perfect sense to me.  There is a little of Thomas in all of us, and that’s alright.  Until the Easter story meets you personally, until it calls you by name, it remains someone else’s story.

            In the words of Thomas: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

            Thomas gets to do all of these things, and his confession of faith in meeting the Risen Jesus is the strongest affirmation of any disciple: “My Lord and my God!”

            Is Thomas supposed to be a bad guy?  The skeptic?  If he is, I still love him, and completely identify with him.  Much nonsense, hatred, and intolerance is done in the name of religion.  I am Dutch—Dutch American, and proud of it.  My Dutch DNA tells me to be suspicious of those who think they hold the only true religious position.  My Dutch DNA also says to practice tolerance and love with those who are different from me.  I’m also curious about what I don’t know, and how it may transform me.  Jews and Muslims, and all religious minorities, were always welcome in Amsterdam, and New Netherland.  The colors of the New Netherland flag were blue and orange, the same colors of the New York Knicks and New York Mets.   The New Netherland colony is now called New York City.  Like you, I heart New York.    

So one of the disciples, the future apostle Thomas, stands up and says wait, hold on, what are we really talking about?  If that’s who Thomas is, this guy is my hero of the Bible. 

Doubting Thomas becomes Saint Thomas, and I love them both.  But they are both the same person—sort of like Jesus crucified and resurrected.  Same guy.  This is like seeing a movie and not wanting to give the plot away to someone else.  Gravity or Midnight in Paris or Field of Dreams, you didn’t want to tell someone what the movie was about.  What’s it about? 

Can’t say.  See it for yourself.   It will be better that way. 

Ok, what about spring?  Is it really here?  Can’t say.  See it for yourself. 

What about winter?  Can you talk about that? 

Nope, I’ve been pretty cold every day this week.  How about you?    

Thomas, the so called Doubting Thomas, presents a cycle of reasoning, and it has to be firsthand to be genuine.  Some questions of Thomas then, and me.  Is Jesus a ghost?  No, all of the gospels except Mark’s original ending (before the church authorities changed it) present Jesus as having a body after his resurrection.  But once again, this is the testimony of others, not you, or Thomas.  Ok, did Jesus actually die?  Everyone says he died.  How about a physical examination with the sense of sight and touch and then an application of human reason?  Is there a doctor in the house?  Someone with a background in medical forensics?  So Thomas becomes Sherlock Holmes, or better yet: he becomes House the doctor, whose character is based on Sherlock Holmes.  Gregory House.  What would Dr. House say? 

“Hold on, you crazy people.  What kind of nonsense are you talking about?” 

House will slice through it, with a scalpel, if need be, down to the bone. 

But let’s also put some other detectives on this cold case (2000 years old).  Let’s see what they can figure out.  Here are my favorites from the detective genre.  First: Kurt Wallander, the depressed existentialist detective from the Swedish Crime series by Henning Mankell.  Here’s how Kurt’s process works.  First: he sometimes sleeps when he’s tired.  Then Wallander looks at his dreams for signs and interpretations.  When conscious, awake that is, Wallander’s mind works like this.  The beginning question is not: who did this crime?  If you ask me, the death of Jesus seems to be a crime scene.  The beginning question for Wallander is this: why did this happen?  If you figure out the second, you often figure out the first.  It is both deductive and subjective, as a reasoning process.    

Ok, another detective. 

Bernie Gunther is my all time favorite detective, even topping Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, played by Humphrey Bogart (if I even have to point that out).  Bernie Gunther is a fictional detective and policeman working in Nazi Germany.  The author of this detective series is Phillip Kerr, who is British.  First: Gunther never joins the Nazi Party; he is dead set against the Nazis and the lunatic Hitler, who medical doctors believed suffered from advanced syphilis, among many other disorders.  Gunther does not drink the Kool Aid.  Please don’t, people, find out what’s inside it.  Gunther is always making fun of Hitler, Goring, Himmler, the whole insane crew (Goebbels and Heydrich are the smartest…they’re all very different).  But Bernie also observes everyone and everything keenly; he doesn’t try to be too smart.  Socrates and all wise men know this is a mistake.  Gunther is often “in a tight spot.”  That is, he is about to die, be tortured, and sent to a death camp, which does happen.  He is often accused of being a “Jew lover,” which he is.  I am too.  But his wisecracking style draws out the powerful, and intrigues the innocent to talk to him.   How does Gunther survive in Nazi Germany?  He’s just a great cop, that’s it.  And a fascinating human being, a man with a moral center of law and order for children.  I read ten books in the Bernie Gunther series in one month.  It is the most impressive blend of historical fiction with the detective story genre of Berlin noir.  Berlin once was a tolerant city, after all.  Don’t lump all Germans in with the Nazis.  Think for yourself.  A German can be Prussian, Bavarian, Swabian, Austrian, Polish, Czech, and in any one of these groups you can be Jewish too.  You can also be a Junker.  Germany’s history is tribal, and it has no coherent ethnic identity.

All of these detectives are anti- institutionalist--totally independent thinkers.  You have to be to investigate a crime, like the death of Jesus.  You have to think outside the box.  It’s necessary for clear, objective thinking, but there are subjective leaps as well.   

Ok, let’s round out this legal brief.  I am not a lawyer, but my wife is.  My mentor was a lawyer too.  And a Marine.  Semper fi.  

What about the people who believe detective stories and the crucifixion itself aren’t really appropriate for kids?  Here’s the truth, like Doubting Thomas meeting Jesus.  All young people are natural detectives.  Sophisticated reasoning processes start very early.  Animals have amazing reasoning skills, especially primates.  My cats, a brother and sister from the same litter, are geniuses, such fascinating and interesting creatures.  I love spending time with them.  My previous cat Sailor was feral.  She was a serial killer too, and I harbored her.  Eventually she met her fate, after a good run, by tangling with a bobcat.  Karma will work itself out.    

What about kids?  Homo sapiens, I’m talking about.  They ask great questions, ones that adults often don’t know how to answer, or don’t want to answer truthfully.  Talk about Doubting Thomases.  Who’s really in trouble here?    

Let’s be clear.  Doubt is not the opposite of faith.  Fear is.  Fear rules the world. 

Or does it?  What about love, truth, and beauty?  This was a tough case, I told my partner.    

Ok, let’s get in the detective car and roll through town.  Berlin, Kent, Sweden, Jerusalem, wherever.    Questions, please, in our investigation.  Do you believe in God?  What about Jesus?  Did Jesus have to die?  Did God demand it? 

Dr House screams: “wrong questions!”

Wrong questions!  Dr. House calls God, my higher power, an imaginary friend.  That lunatic reads Nietzche to wash down his painkillers.  Could someone get the doctor under control?  Before leaving, House tells us that the better question is this one. 

Why Does the World Exist?  (Jim Holt too).    

Then get bigger than the Earth, our holy mother.    

It’s not that big a planet; there are countless others like it, discovered everyday in the gravitational field of billions of stars by high tech astronomers.  Maybe it’s time to put these new Galileos on trial.  Put them in a tight spot, to really feel the heat, like our beautiful sun.  Follow-up questions from the children in the house: Why does the universe exist?  How big is it?  Is it really expanding?  Will it break apart and end at some point?  Or is a previous universe the origin of the Big Bang?    

What is that your business?  (Annie Hall reference.)

What about the Buddhists?  What do they have to say?  BOOM.

“We’re going Boom, Boom, Boom.  And that’s the way we live.”  (Talking Heads reference).  Boom goes the dynamite.   

This said, the best person to talk about the position of Buddhists is Rachel Choe.  She is the president of the Buddhist Meditation Group, and I am the faculty advisor.   

But why does the world even exist?  Wallander?  Gunther?  Miss Marple?  House is gone now, what a relief.   We’ve got computers to look for answers, let’s google it.  Google is a verb by the way.  People are on their phones right now.  But we’re tapping phone lines.  What does Edward Snowden think?  Is he a bad guy?  A doubting Thomas?  The NSA?  Good or bad?   

What do you all think?   For a second.  Why does the world exist? 

To me, Thomas seems like the most reasonable detective in the Bible: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

What about Ferris Bueller?  What does he think?  That poor guy needs a day off.  Save Ferris.    

Bueller?  Bueller? 

I’ll end this morning with Ferris from 1986.  You know the film.   

Ah, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, one of the two greatest movies from 1986 (Top Gun is the other…if you had to ask). 

Ferris:  “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Look for your own answers.  Be an individual.  That’s what St. Thomas did, and he became an apostle.   

May God bless all of you, students and visitors, during this season of Easter.  And may God bless Doubting Thomases everywhere.  Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.  God loves each of you as if you were the only person on the face of the earth, even though you aren’t.  So let’s keep it real.  My name is Falling Hawk.  Asian Pride.  Black Power.    


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